Number of Singapore passports issued in 2021 lowest in 15 years, Latest Travel News - The New Paper

Number of Singapore passports issued in 2021 lowest in 15 years

The number of Singaporeans renewing their passports or applying for new ones continued to slide amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with the figure for those issued in 2021 plunging to a 15-year low.

Travel restrictions and border closures saw the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) issue 281,918 passports last year, the fewest since 2006 when Singapore citizens received 353,562 passports.

New passports are issued when an existing one has expired or is going to expire, or when someone who does not have a passport applies for one, including parents applying for passports for their children.

There was an uptick towards the end of last year, after the ICA announced that citizens aged 16 and above would be able to apply for passports with a 10-year validity from Oct 1, 2021.

Those of citizens below the age of 16 remain at five years as their facial features continue to change as they grow, ICA had said.

Of the newly issued passports last year, 103,968, or just over a third, were issued in the last three months of 2021.

Singapore citizens had received 711,617 passports in 2019, but as the virus spread around the world and forced governments to close borders, ICA issued only 320,709 passports in 2020.

The sharp drop last year is not surprising given high Covid-19 rates in many countries and quarantine rules in various jurisdictions, said Mr Chew Kian Beng, course chair of Temasek Polytechnic's hospitality and tourism management programme.

"The biggest fear for travellers is less of Covid-19 infection but overnight curbs cancelling of travel routes - or worse, being left stranded in a foreign land," he added.

By the second half of 2021, various jurisdictions had eased travel restrictions, with quarantine-free travel between Singapore and selected countries under the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme with lower Covid-19 risk starting last September.

However, Dr Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said most Singaporeans are still cautious about travelling overseas, "especially with the high infection rate around the world from the new Omicron variant".

"People are beginning to travel due to the opening of more VTLs but the full recovery will likely take place in two to three years' time."

And even VTLs are not certainties.

Last month, Singapore froze all new ticket sales for VTL flights and buses between Dec 23 last year and Jan 20 this year amid a rapid spread of Omicron cases in many countries.

Ms Ng Peiru, a publicist, said she had received an e-mail from ICA last February to renew her five-year-old daughter's passport, but decided against it.

"There were different priorities at the time so renewing her passport, which would have expired last October, was not very important especially when travelling overseas was not on the horizon," said the 33-year-old mother of two.

She renewed her daughter's passport only in time for a cruise to nowhere her family took in November last year.

Unlike the NRIC, the Singapore passport is not a mandatory identity document, ICA has previously said.

Mr Abdul Haqem'Ulddin, who intends to travel to United States in March, welcomed the savings that come with his new passport's longer validity.

The 29-year-old application engineer's travel document was due to expire and he renewed it in December.

"It's going to cost me less as I don't have to pay twice as much for renewal every five years," said Mr Haqem, who noted that here was no change to the passport application fee, which remains at $70.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior communications manager at travel agency Chan Brothers, said the industry remains hopeful that travel will pick up.

He noted that the Omicron threat has not had a significant impact on confirmed VTL bookings.

But, said Mr Wong: "So far, our VTL sales, which include package tours, flight and accommodation bookings, amount to five per cent of what we used to see before the pandemic."